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May - July 2016

Anti Missionary Law

A fellow missionary told me that two young evangelists were coming to Russia to conduct a summer Bible time program for children. They wanted to bring their ministry to Oryol. I was very hesitant to try it, because we have had trouble here trying to have ministry with kids. Russian law strictly requires parental permission before you can teach religion to children. The parents here in Oryol are especially suspicious of foreigners, and they think it is unpatriotic to teach their children any religion other than Russian Orthodoxy. We decided to give the evangelists a chance to come and try their program during the first week of July.

Our first children’s meeting was scheduled for Sunday night at 5pm. At about 3:30, even though there was no rain in the forecast, a huge thunderstorm swept in. It was one of the worst I have ever seen here. We waited at the church house as it rained, but no young people came. At 5:30, four men from the prosecutor’s office came to the door. They heard that we were teaching religion to children. I invited them in, and they asked us questions for about an hour and a half. I showed them all the documents that we used for parental permission, and in the end, they told us that we were not breaking any rules. Even though it rained most of the week, we eventually had seven young people come to the meetings. Four of them made professions of faith. AMEN!

At the same time, the Russian legislature was working on an anti-terrorism law that contained some very strict restrictions on “missionary activity”. The law intends to restrict the ability of Muslim extremists to meet in small groups and plan terrorist acts, but it seems to prohibit the sharing of any faith outside an official church building. It also seems to outlaw any worship service in a private home. The law was passed by both houses of the legislature in June, it was signed into law by president Putin on July 7, and took effect on July 20.

When I read descriptions of the law in the news media, I was fairly convinced that our ministry here was finished. After the evangelists left town, I had some time to read the actual law and translate the relevant parts for myself. A close look at the law reveals that it only applies to officially registered Russian religious organizations and groups. Since we operate as private individuals, our work does not fit the law’s narrow definition of “missionary activity”. I watched an online seminar by lawyers at an important legal group that defends religious liberty cases. According to their analysis, the new law does not apply to us at all. I contacted them, and they said they would defend us if we have any problems.

That is good news, but it is much more comforting to know that God will always defend us as we serve Him. We thank and praise Him for “confusing our enemies”, as they wrote a law that apparently is ineffective. I have searched the news for reports of any persecution since the law was enacted. So far, all seems to be quiet. Please pray.

In the service of the King,
Don Ossewaarde